Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP recently had the opportunity to interview Chris Udall, Senior Project Manager, Lutron Electronics about how electrical distributors can position themselves to sell networked lighting controls. Transcript follows:
DiLouie: What are the advantages of incorporating a networked lighting control system (NLC) into an LED upgrade in an existing building for both the electrical distributor and the building owner?
Udall: Commercial lighting retrofits are typically motivated by updated energy codes and the ability to take advantage of available energy rebates. Depending on the region of the country and the local utility there may be incentives available for networked control solutions (NLCs) that go beyond the rebates for upgraded lighting.
Adding NLCs to LED lighting can also deliver significant, incremental energy savings. In a recent study, for example, the DesignLights Consortium and the Lighting Controls Association found that NLCs can help achieve “additional energy savings of nearly 70 percent for some building types and averaging 49 percent across a variety of building categories.”
In many cases, rebates and energy savings can pay for the control system, and if the project is designed with a wireless, networked system contractors will lower both their time and labor costs.
For the building owner, NLCs help make a building more adaptable, future-proof, and sustainable. Depending on the selected control system, a smart, wireless lighting control system can start as a local control solution and scale to meet the changing needs of their space. Once the infrastructure is in place, wireless hubs can be added at any time, and that standalone-control solution is now a smart, networked system without having to re-wire, re-fixture, etc.
DiLouie: What application characteristics in an existing building are particularly well suited for recommending an NLC? What should electrical distributors be looking for?
Udall: The distributor will want to understand the scope and scale of the retrofit before recommending a solution. If the customer’s goal is to replace fluorescent tubes with LED fixtures, they might want a system that will work with common TLED Retrofits. If the goal is a more comprehensive update that will return higher-performance, more comfortable, flexible lighting, there are more options to consider.
For projects where zoning is likely to change over time a wireless control system probably makes the most sense; you can make changes any time without recircuiting, rewiring, and opening walls and ceilings. With wireless, in-space control also becomes easier to add, update, and even move as you change space layout.
You need to make sure whatever system you suggest has a diverse mix of control options available to accommodate the fixture control technology already in the building, (whether it is phase, 0-10V, DALI, EcoSystem, etc.) as well as the retrofit fixtures you have chosen for the update. Verify that the system you install can handle any of these topologies. Even if you are changing the fixtures, you are not likely to want to change the control wires. Pick a system that can work with the existing wiring.
DiLouie: What are the main technological trends in NLC development, and what problems are they solving to make this option more attractive?
Udall: More and more often, building systems are being connected to the internet as it allows for simpler and more sophisticated space management, and better manufacturer support via remote and more efficient diagnostics. As technologies improve and more devices feature cloud connectivity, the cost to add system intelligence (such as radios and software licenses) keeps coming down.
Generally, people are just less hesitant about embracing connected controls. End users are more comfortable with the security aspects of the technology, and therefore, more willing to put connected systems in their buildings. For example, HVAC systems, elevators, security systems – all of these are more often connected to the cloud, and owners/managers are expecting this capability as a means of increasing building efficiency. Some sectors are more amenable than others, but this is where the trend is headed. Cloud-based control is the future of building infrastructure.
DiLouie: What specific market and industry trends are pushing NLCs towards being more attractive for LED upgrades in existing construction?
Udall: Codes and energy rebates are driving the push to NLCs. In many places the code requires NLCs, which moves technology innovations toward networked solutions. Energy rebates lower the cost of required networked lighting upgrades, and building owners want to take advantage of the rebates while they can, so that’s another significant factor. And finally, a federal law that took effect in May 2022 requires that all lightbulbs and lamps must be more energy efficient.
Beyond codes and rebates, new technology expands retrofit options. Wired lighting control systems, which are viable for new construction, are not practical for retrofits; but a proliferation of new, smart, wireless systems make them an excellent choice for retrofit projects. For the contractor, using a digital, wireless solution – including integrated fixtures controls or digital drivers – simplifies the wiring and installation of both controls and fixtures because power wiring can be run independently of control wiring. It’s a win-win-win for the distributor, contractor, and customer.
DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about applying NLCs to existing buildings, what would it be?
Udall: As the options in networked lighting control systems grow, it is more important than ever to work with a partner who has the reputation, experience, and proven expertise you need for the long run. Look for a manufacturer that can provide reliable solutions at any scale, from a small space to a fully integrated, multi-facility campus. Work with a global company with experts in every market who are going to be there when you need updates, technical help, and engineering support.
Innovation is the lifeblood of the industry, but it is essential to do your homework and to make sure that you work with a team committed to minimizing your risk and maximizing your investment. Look for a proven partner who is along for the journey, and prepared to deliver performance, function, service, and support for the life of your system.